Fillmore Linen Service opens in North Lawndale, part of larger project to create more jobs (2024)

The health care laundry company Fillmore Linen Service opened the doors of its North Lawndale facility on Wednesday, as part of a larger initiative to create jobs and revitalize the West Side neighborhood.

The company occupies 45,000 square feet at the Fillmore Center, a 168,000-square-foot building at 4100 W. Fillmore St. that was once home to the Calumet Baking Powder Co. Until recently, the 111-year old building was mostly vacant in the under-invested neighborhood.

As many as 200 people attended Fillmore Linen Service’s ribbon-cutting ceremony such as Ald. Monique Scott (24th), community leaders and Fillmore’s staff, among others.

Fillmore Linen Service opens in North Lawndale, part of larger project to create more jobs (1)

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

With its state-of-the-art industrial washers, dryers and presses, Fillmore will wash up to 30 million pounds of laundry each year from Chicago area hospitals — a service that was previously outsourced to companies in nearby states like Wisconsin and Indiana. Rush University System for Health and Lurie Children’s Hospital have signed on as the company’s first customers.

Depending on customer demand, Fillmore said it would be interested in opening a second site, though it hasn’t determined a location.

The laundry company hired 55 employees for its opening phase and expects to increase staffing to 175. It prioritized hiring residents from North Lawndale and surrounding communities, including Austin, East and West Garfield Park and West Humboldt Park.

Fillmore received more than 325 applications and was open to second chance hiring, giving those with criminal records an opportunity to gain employment.

“For some people, this may be their first work opportunity,” said Patricia Ford, executive director of Steans Family Foundation, a development partner on the Fillmore Center. “There is trauma in the neighborhood that gets in the way of success.”

Among the 77 neighborhoods in Chicago, North Lawndale ranked 13th in economic hardship, according to a 2021 report by the University of Illinois at Chicago Great Cities Institute. It estimated that $124 million in resident spending leaves North Lawndale annually because of factors like underdeveloped commercial corridors and a lack of goods and services in the neighborhood.

Fillmore Linen Service opens in North Lawndale, part of larger project to create more jobs (2)

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Creating jobs

Other businesses are expected to open this year at the Fillmore Center when the building’s renovations are completed. The companies include Kribi Coffee Air Roastery and Southside Blooms. The property can house up to seven businesses.

Fillmore Center aims to create more than 250 jobs and generate more than $9 million in annual income for North Lawndale’s economy.

Seven years after renovations are completed, the building will be placed into a community benefit trust that allows residents to share and manage profits from the building — making it one of the few examples in the country.

The project was led by the nonprofit West Side United in 2017. The murder of George Floyd in 2020 gave momentum to the model of a community benefit trust, and it’s touted as more equitable for North Lawndale residents since the Fillmore Center will eventually be turned over to the community, Ford said.

Fillmore Linen Service opens in North Lawndale, part of larger project to create more jobs (3)

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

She said one challenge for the project is overcoming negative views of North Lawndale that can deter businesses from opening there. “We hope that our boldness to step in will encourage others to think about how they’re deploying resources and creating wealth and be a catalyst for peers,” Ford said.

The Steans Family Foundation bought the property in November 2022 for $3.3 million.

The Fillmore Center’s $40 million renovation was funded by tax credits and $12 million in grants, including $1.25 million from the Chicago Community Trust, and up to $10 million in tax increment financing assistance.

‘Building a career’

In 2018, Dr. David Ansell, senior vice president for community health equity at Rush University Medical Center, introduced the idea that became Fillmore Linen Service to a group of stakeholders. West Side United and World Business Chicago then produced a preliminary plan. After the COVID-19 pandemic, West Side United resurfaced the idea in 2022 and a new business plan was presented to hospitals and funders, which led to Fillmore’s launch.

At the ribbon cutting ceremony, the company’s new employees were excited about the facility’s opening.

Kim Swayze, 49, applied for a job after seeing postings on Indeed.com and a bulletin board at the Chicago Public Library’s Austin branch.

Fillmore Linen Service opens in North Lawndale, part of larger project to create more jobs (4)

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Swayze, who lives near Lawndale, was hired as a production supervisor. She was previously a store manager at Autozone and had never worked with heavy machinery and “had no clue about linens.”

But Swayze said she joined Fillmore “to do something different. Who knows where this might take me.”

Caprice Hamer, 28, was among the new hires who went through a training program in May. Hired as a machine operator, Hamer has held various jobs in Chicago from restaurants to factories. But for the first time, he has a career and not just a paycheck, he said.

“In five to 20 years, I’ll probably still be working here, building a career. The opportunity is great,” he said.

Hamer grew up in North Lawndale and lives a block away from the Fillmore Center.

“This neighborhood has been very rugged for the past few decades. Revitalization for this area has been eye-opening and a blessing,” he said. “I see a lot of opportunities for the locals in this area.”

Among Hamer’s colleagues at Fillmore are his childhood friend’s mom and the coach of a rival high school basketball team, who lives in the neighborhood.

Decades ago, Hamer’s grandmother worked at Color Communications, which was housed in a building next to the Fillmore Center. He’s hopeful about helping to revitalize North Lawndale, where he has deep roots.

“If you need a tangible thing to view the growth in this neighborhood, this is a good model,” Hamer said of Fillmore Linen Service. “This is the first opportunity I’ve had in forever. I think it can really propel me to where I want to go in life.”

Fillmore Linen Service opens in North Lawndale, part of larger project to create more jobs (5)

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Fillmore Linen Service opens in North Lawndale, part of larger project to create more jobs (2024)
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